Meet Me at the Commons

Meet Me at the Commons

It didn’t matter to Chris D’Amelio that he had gotten off a 13-hour flight from Seoul only an hour ago. His first stop, after dropping his bags at home, was the Commons Chelsea, a sliver of a coffee shop on Seventh Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets that he visits almost every day.

Sam Nidel, one of the owners, was behind the counter when Mr. D’Amelio walked in. “What’s up, Sam?” he said. The two gave each other a friendly hand slap, and then Mr. D’Amelio, accompanied by his wife, Cecile, and their son, Axel, placed their order: an iced Americano, two avocado toasts, bacon and eggs. “Normally I just get a coffee and leave, but today, we’re actually going to sit and eat,” he said.

The family managed to snag a corner table in the packed 300-square-foot space and proceeded to enjoy their lunch as classic rock played from the overhead speakers.

Many regulars had stopped by on this warm, sunny Saturday. The intimate spot, with its natural concrete floor, mounted mirrors and walls lined with white subway tiles, has been popular among locals since it opened in 2011.

Specialty coffee shops no doubt abound in New York, but this one’s a full-on family affair: Sam, 31, owns the place with his brother Brett Nidel, 37, and their childhood friend, Matthew Mogil, 36. The three men also run the restaurant next door to the Commons, Motel Morris, and the brothers live in separate apartments in the six-story building above the cafe.

Family members also live on the other floors, and many are involved in the Commons in one way or another: Brett’s wife, Tamara McCarthy, is responsible for the graphic design, and their cousin, Jessica Corr, helped design the space. Sam and Brett’s father, Richard, doesn’t live in the building but is a lawyer for the business, and their mother, Arlene Novick, is responsible for many of the baked goods, delivering pumpkin bread, lemon glazed cake and chocolate chip cookies throughout the week. Family members don’t roast the coffee beans, however. They come from the Philadelphia-based brand, La Colombe.

Sam used to work in real estate. One day, when he noticed that the shoe store he lived above was for rent, he sensed an opportunity: “We always felt that the big void in our neighborhood back then was the lack of a specialty coffee cafe, so we thought, why not create one ourselves?”

Sam is a constant presence at the shop while Brett pops in and out. When the warm weather comes, the three outdoor tables are a popular spot for lingering. On this day, Billy Allen took in the sun while sipping a cappuccino. The Harlem resident was waiting for his girlfriend, Susan, who works nearby. He said that the Commons is his favorite hangout when he is in the area. “Susan is here every day, and I come when I have the chance,” he said. “I love the intimate size and great staff and coffee.”

One table over, Ray and Patti O’Byrne were visiting from New Jersey for the first time. “I had heard about this place from friends, and now that we’re here, we know that we will definitely come back,” Mr. O’Byrne said.

Inside, the line thickened. At least a dozen more avocado toasts, sprinkled with cumin and chili flakes, were ordered.

Gary Russo entered the shop just when the crowd had eased and didn’t even have to order. Steven Ta, who works behind the counter, saw him and immediately poured his usual cup of coffee with half and half. “I’m here every day, and the staff knows exactly what I want,” Mr. Russo said. “Coming to the Commons feels good.”

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